As you may have heard, the NHL is officially in a lock out, and all games through September have been wiped out. Those are just preseason games, but it’s still something cancelled. Not great news for a league that just had a whole season wiped out because of a lock out in 2004-2005. And, for whatever it’s worth, this is coming off the heels of lockouts in basketball and football. Who would have thought, oh, twenty years ago that baseball would the model of stability in professional sports?
From my understanding, much like football, the players are not seeking anything new. They’re just asking for the continuation of the status quo. Which, for the curious, gives players 57% of hockey revenue. The owners first decided they wanted something more like 43%. That offer has since risen to 47%. So, a pretty substantial cut.
What I don’t understand is why. Well, let me rephrase that a little bit. I know the owners want more money in their pocket. Still, according to Sports Illustrated, hockey revenue has grown substantially. Like, a whole billion dollars substantially. I think the vast majority of businesses would be absolutely thrilled at a billion dollars worth of growth and would do anything necessary not to rock the boat. Now, I’m sure owners would also point out that player salaries grew by a million dollars on average.
Of course, the players have an easy retort to that one. The owners are the ones that ultimately decided what to pay the players.
Now, I know there are market forces, and nobody wants to be found guilty of colluding to keep player salaries artificially deflated. Still, player salaries would not have grown so much if the owners were absolutely against it. The same argument holds true in other sports. Owners and general managers just can’t seem to help themselves but to give out big (and not necessarily well-thought) contracts. Then they can’t seem to understand why they haven’t ended up with a bigger slice of the pie.
Still, as the argument went during the NFL and NBA lockouts, these are millionaires arguing with billionaires. The real victims are the fans and citizens of NHL cities.
I suppose I don’t know just how feasible it is, but I think a lot more teams really ought to go the Green Bay route. I am of the firm belief that, even though these teams have individual owners, professional sports franchises are just as much a civil entity as a corporate one. Maybe more so civil than corporate. Yeah, players make too much money. But they wouldn’t be able to do that if we as a society weren’t so willing to give these teams our money. We want to feel proud of our local teams, our local stadiums. We want to puff our chest out and say “We have the best team/stadium/fans in the country.” And, well, you just can’t do that without your team. So when crass business gets in the way of that, we are the losers. The owners and players are going to make out of this deal, whatever this deal turns out to be, just fine. But, without the games, there are going to be a whole lot of lost fans.
*This is a view I’ve held for an awfully long time, but it has been crystallized a bit from reading Paul Lukas.
It takes a long time for a league to bounce back from a major interruption. Hockey really has just recovered from the last lockout in the past couple years. There are still people who haven’t forgiven baseball for 1994.* Why would you want to rock the boat?
*A lot of those people are also idiots, but they’re out there.
The only thing I can see in this case is everybody feels like the winter sports go on way too long anyway. Eighty-two games is just a ridiculous schedule for hockey and basketball. I think both leagues would be well served to cut back to, say, a fifty game schedule* and not have fans bat an eye. But, the owners want that gate, and I’m sure the players don’t mind the game checks.**
*Or something in that neighborhood, whatever works out nicely to balance the schedule or whatever.
**They might mind the increased injuries, though. That may be a bigger concern in football and hockey than in basketball, though.
So, in conclusion, get it together, owners. You’re going to end up looking like the bad guys here when you’re still going to make plenty of money under the current deal. Generaly speaking, and maybe to a man, your hockey teams aren’t your main business. They’re just something you bought as an expensive hobby, status symbol, or possibly out of a sense of civic duty. Your real duty as an owner is to get games on the ice. The players will play, I’m not worried about that. If you want to miss a few games, fine, but you better have this worked out by December. Or else, or something.